The first five rows of the student section were left empty. There was a vacant seat on the end of the basketball team’s bench, too.
But the void on the Owls’ bench wasn’t just another empty seat; to the players, it was an eerie silence.
“It was really weird not hearing the yelling,” said junior co-captain Mardy Collins, missing coach John Chaney’s usual hollering.
The Owls played their first game without Chaney because of his suspension for the remainder of the regular season, a decision made by president David Adamany. Chaney is serving a three-game suspension for his actions in last Tuesday’s game against Saint Joseph’s, in which Chaney sent in a “goon” to rough up the Hawks in retaliation for what he perceived as uncalled fouls by St. Joe’s. Yesterday Chaney suspended himself from the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament.
The Owls were abysmal in the first few minutes of Saturday’s game, but took control late in the first half to beat Massachusetts, 61-48. The Owls wore black sneakers instead of the traditional white as a sign of team unity.
The student section was as hushed as the Owls’ bench. The first five rows of the Wild Cherry student sections 118, 119, and 120 were kept vacant due to allegations that St. Joe’s forward John Bryant had been spat upon while he lay on the floor in the Tuesday, Feb. 22, game. Adamany said the empty seats were Temple’s way of apologizing to Bryant.
Assistant coach and former Temple basketball standout Mark Macon said fan behavior was uplifting.
“[The fans] were great. It was beautiful,” Macon said. “They did what they were supposed to do. Even when we were down, they behaved nicely.”
Fans and alumni were divided on Chaney’s suspension.
Sherry Snethen said hearing about Chaney’s suspension made her cry. Snethen, a 1968 graduate, said she fears a postseason rematch between the city rivals because Chaney’s suspension could create one-sided officiating.
“I think coach Chaney did what needed to be done,” said Snethen, who attended last Tuesday’s game. “If they have to face St. Joe’s again in the A-10 tournament with an uneven playing field, that would be horrible.”
Dr. Peter Chodoff agreed. Chodoff is former president of the Owl Club and a supporter of Temple athletics for more than 50 years. He recalled a disagreement Chaney had with then-UMass coach John Calipari, during which Chaney threatened Calipari’s life.
“John Calipari has said, ‘Why suspend him now?’ Calipari has been such a big supporter of Chaney over the years,” Chodoff said. “You realize what John [Chaney] did to John [Calipari] a while ago and you have to think that something here and now is definitely wrong.”
Chodoff added that Chaney made two mistakes against St. Joe’s: sending in senior forward Nehemiah Ingram to be an intimidator, and calling Ingram a “goon.”
Following Saturday’s win, Ingram was permitted to speak to the media for the first time since Tuesday. He apologized for his role in Bryant’s season-ending injury.
“Everyone should get a chance to experience their Senior Day game,” Ingram said. “I’m sorry that it happened like that. My intent was not to hurt him. I didn’t think I fouled him that hard.”
After the Owls’ loss to the Hawks, Chaney called Ingram a “goon.” Ingram said he didn’t take offense to the name. He said it described his style of play.
“He’s like a father to me, and my father called me worse things than that,” Ingram said. “I think people looked more into it than I did. It’ll pass in a couple weeks.”
According to Ingram, acting coach Dan Liebovitz approached him about playing time. Ingram said Liebovitz told him he would play, to prove “to everyone that I am a basketball player and not what everybody perceived me to be.”
Collins said it was important to get Ingram into the game, not just for Ingram, but for Chaney.
“I know coach made a mistake and he’s paying for it,” Collins said. “He apologized and we’re all sorry that it happened. A lot of people are looking at this one incident and forgetting all the good things he did.”
One fan, freshman John Lamb, said he thought Chaney’s coaching position with the team was secure. In firing Chaney, Lamb said, Temple would lose an icon and financial supporters.
“Everyone does something they aren’t proud of,” Lamb said. “I don’t know if there is anything he can do to get himself fired. The University would definitely lose a lot of money if he were to go.”
Sophomore Tia Jackson said the one-game suspension was plenty.
“I think coach suspending himself was justice enough,” she said. “It was a very honorable thing to do. He just momentarily lost his cool. I still respect him the same.”
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.